Picks and Pans Review: The Little Friend
Robin Cleve Dufresnes was 9 when he was hanged from a tree in his own yard. Twelve years later, the murder still unsolved, his younger sister Harriet embarks on a quest to find his killer and exact revenge. A precocious 12-year-old who has grown up in the shadow of Robin's death, Harriet soon learns that in the adult world things are rarely simple.
Like The Secret History, Tartt's acclaimed 1992 debut, this eagerly anticipated second novel muses on morality and murderous impulses. Set in Mississippi in the 1970s, it is a dark tale of lost innocence populated by a cast of characters that would make Flannery O'Connor proud. Among them: Harriet's great-aunts, flighty but loving spinsters who stand in for her perpetually doped-up mother, and the ne'er-do-well Ratliff brothers, led by Danny, a psychotic methamphetamine addict.
The prologue, detailing the day of Robin's death, is the novel's shining moment. The rest, unfortunately, never achieves the same pitch. This is an emotionally sophisticated book, but it can't decide whether to be a thriller or a coming-of-age story. With fine-tuning it could have been both. (Knopf, $26)
Bottom Line: A glorious mess